The continuation of what I started, a fortnight ago:
5. Traveling to Antarctica. The Hardys have been to lots of places most people will never get to go to — Iceland, India, Hong Kong — but Antarctica is a destination that impresses even seasoned travelers. So of course Frank and Joe have ventured to the continent, traveling there in The Stone Idol (#65).
So how do they get there? Already in South America, they take a plane to Punta Arenas, Chile, and the U.S. Navy flies them and their father to Byrd Station. Why does the Navy take the time to serve as their airline? Because Fenton is working for the man, unraveling a ring that steals materiel from naval bases. While Fenton investigates the base, Frank and Joe are sent to an outpost, posing as scholarship students. Fenton says, “You’ve got enough science from Bayport High to fit in without any trouble.” Sure, why not?
Although they do spend most of their time on the icy continent indoors, they do fly over the Antarctic through the South Pole on a clear day, getting a great view of the Antarctic landscape. They also visit a penguin rookery, where Joe Hardy, the great investigator and terror of the animal kingdom, is menaced by a penguin. It’s not all mystery tourism, though: they get lost in the snowy wastes, and Frank and Joe are later knocked out and left to die in the snow. But they get their man! (Fenton does not.)
4. Traveling to Easter Island. Travel to Antarctica is expensive and relatively rare, but it’s a trip that is relatively easy to arrange. (National Geographic Travel was even advertising trips to the Antarctic on Jeopardy! for a while.) But Easter Island is a different matter, even more remote from human habitation than Earth’s frozen continent. The island is 1,200 miles from Pitcairn Island, the closest inhabited piece of land, and Pitcairn Island has fewer than 100 people. Chile, which claims Easter Island (Rapa Nui to its inhabitants), is 2,100 miles away.
So after stopping off in Antarctica in The Stone Idol, Frank and Joe went to Easter Island. They charter a flight there to pursue a suspect authorities assured them would be jailed as soon as he arrived. On Easter Island, they meet quaint people with quaint beliefs, see the biggest tourist attraction (the stone heads), and are hit in the heads by a goofball wearing a costume. You know: normal Hardy Boys stuff.
3. Helping (temporarily) to foil the Cuban Revolution. While the Hardy Boys avoided being dated in one aspect by omitting almost all direction references to the Cold War or USSR, the dénouement of The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37) shows the problem of tearing your stories straight from the headlines if you expect the book or its characters to last for more than a decade or so.
By 1957, when Skeleton Rock was published, news of unrest in Cuba would have reached the United States. Many Cuban groups hated the despotic President Fulgencio Bautista, although the pro-business U.S. government supported him. Demonstrations and student riots were frequent by 1955; an officers’ coup in 1956, led by Gen. Ramon Barquin, failed. A pair of student groups stormed the Presidential Palace in an attempt to assassinate Bautista, but Bautista survived. And of course Fidel Castro and his guerillas had been fighting the government since their return from exile in 1956.
So who was trying to overthrow the Cuban government in Skeleton Rock? White American crooks, mostly, led by Durling Hamilton, a fat guy in a white suit. What’s his plan? Well, his gang tries to steal nuclear material, which he hopes to use to build an atomic bomb. Somehow — and here’s where the miracle happens — they believe this will allow them to seize control of Cuba. Probably it’s a blackmail plot, but it’s difficult to say exactly. In addition to this sterling plan, the “revolutionaries” steal air cargo to gain what they need for their cause. They smuggle diamonds to finance the revolution, although their method of smuggling is ventriloquist dummies. (Yes, they operate a company that distributes ventriloquist dummies, and they put diamonds in the heads of some of them to get them into America.) They also deal in a stolen wonder drug.
When you get down to it, Hamilton’s gang seems less a revolutionary cell than a successful criminal gang that has decided to expand too far. Instead of going into narcotics or something else profitable, Hamilton succumbed to the Fallacy of the Unbounded Middle and went into nation stealing. It’s an understandable, if tragic, mistake, and the diversified nature of the gang’s activities give the Hardys more threads to pick at to make all its schemes unravel.
The choice of villain shows how little those in control of the Hardy Boys books understood Cuba: criminal syndicates loved Bautista and his government. The mob was sad to see him go. But the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which wrote the outlines and commissioned authors to write the books, were racially sensitive enough to not want to make poor brown people the villains, vanquished by the mighty white Hardys.
Fenton gets a medal from the Cuban government for his efforts. Frank and Joe are rewarded not by the Cuban government but by an airline the gang preyed upon; they are given a “special radar outfit” for … Fenton’s plane. It’s a poor reward for Frank and Joe, but given how much they’ve made over the years, they don’t get to complain. Tony gets a “special boat trip” in the Caribbean from the Cubans, which sounds like code; someone on the cruise is going to get chopped up and fed to sharks. Hope it’s not Tony! Chet gets a family of ventriloquist dummies, which will gather dust in his closet as soon as he gives up his ventriloquism hobby — which should be about 10 minutes after the mystery ends.
In real life, the end of Bautista’s reign in Cuba came soon after this book was published. The U.S. embargoed weapon sales to Cuba in March 1958, and on New Year’s Eve 1958, Bautista fled the country with an immense fortune. In 1966, the story was revised, and the fictional banana republic of Tropicale was substituted for Cuba.
2. Rescuing the president from kidnappers. The Hardys are patriots, having received commendations from the Defense Department for their achievements in The Bombay Boomerang (#49), but they went beyond mere patriotism by rescuing the kidnapped president in The Billion-Dollar Ransom (#73).
The story of how Frank and Joe Hardy meeting the most powerful person in the world starts the way so many great stories do: with a magic show. Fenton is hired to provide security for a magic tournament, and he brings Frank and Joe along as cheap labor. But a third of the way through the book, Fenton is hired by the government for an important job, and he has to drop the piddling gathering of magicians; in fact, Fenton has been hired to help protect the president as he secretly goes to the Bayport Naval Hospital to remove a tumor. Unfortunately, Fenton does his usual semi-glutteal job, and the president is kidnapped; fortunately, the case dovetails with Frank and Joe’s investigation, and the best magician in the contest is a kidnapper.
To make a long story short, Frank, Joe, Fenton, and the Secret Service recover the president, who has his operation. (Which president is he? That’s a secret! His wife’s name is Marge, though.) What do Frank and Joe get for their heroism? Ice cream and cake with the president. Other than that, they get two things: jack and squat.
1. Space flight. No one can underestimate how awesome this is: Frank and Joe went into space aboard the fictional space shuttle Skyfire in The Skyfire Puzzle (#85).
It isn’t like Frank and Joe wanted to be astronauts. No, Frank and Joe wanted to be nothing but teen detectives. But — *sigh* — they and their father were roped into helping investigate sabotage at Cape Canaveral. They weren’t random choices; they were called in by Harry Stone, the head of security at NASA and a former NYPD colleague of Fenton’s. (In the Marvel Universe, the superhero Ms. Marvel was also head of security at Cape Canaveral before she gained powers.) Now, Harry isn’t looking to hire Fenton and the Hardys; he’s hoping for a favor. What can he give in return for this favor?
Passage for Frank, Joe, and Chet on the Skyfire, proving sometimes it really is who you know that gets you the cool stuff in life.
Of course the boys are stoked, despite riding on a vessel with a name that sounds like a synonym for a mid-air explosion. Participants in the sort of program that put teacher Christa McAuliffe on the Challenger have cancelled — given the attempted sabotage, that seems like a wise choice — so Stone is able to offer their slots to the dangerously underqualified and untrained Hardys. And Chet. Unlike McAuliffe and her backup, who trained for about six months, the Hardys have less than a week to learn everything they need to know before they head into space, and they have to cram in an actual investigation while they do so.
The mystery isn’t completely resolved by the time they are supposed to launch, so Frank, Joe, and Chet (an unpaid load, if ever there was one) carry their investigation into space. There, by threatening to let a fellow astronaut drift helplessly to his death and risking an explosion on the Skyfire, Frank gets a confession about the sabotage, which was designed to distract attention from attempts to steal the Longeye satellite, a device meant to aid the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and help the military as well.
The next scene after Frank threatens to kill another human being in the vacuum of space is a picnic, with plenty of hamburgers and potato salad. Because Frank and Joe (and Chet!) are just normal kids! Who do remarkable things!